The outrage of the moment has, understandably, been a new Congressionally approved tax overhaul that rewards the wealthy with tax breaks, adding the deficit and leaving the poor and residents of high-tax states with the bill. But released at year’s end is a new White House agenda on immigration that should chill the very soul for anyone who can see the rhetoric on display.
Entitled, “It’s Time To End Chain Migration,” the Trump administration argues that in the last decade, 70 percent of immigration to the United States has been based on family relations — someone coming into the country by virtue of the fact that a relative had already made residence in America. For every two new immigrants admitted to the country, the White House says, they will bring seven more “foreign relatives” to come over permanently.
The stated reason for why this is a concern is that this allows entrance into the country based not on merit or skill but by mere family ties, which means there is a growth in unskilled immigrant labor, which has negative effects on wages and the job markets. The White House’s presentation hits all the important scare points about how such an invasion threatens the nation:
“Most green cards in the United States are awarded based on an antiquated system of family ties, not skill or merit. This system of Chain Migration – whereby one immigrant can bring in their entire extended families, who can bring in their families and so on – de-skills the labor force, puts downward pressure on wages, and increases the deficit. Chain Migration also undermines national security, by failing to establish merit-based criteria for evaluating entrants into the United States – instead, familial relations are all that is required to obtain a green card and, in turn, become a voting U.S. Citizen within a short period of time, with access to Federal welfare and government benefits.”
But we should read between the lines and see what’s really happening. In very clear language, as well as in visual representation, the White House is saying that for every immigrant you see, that’s several more you don’t see. This is the way an exterminator talks about cockroach infestation. Combine this dehumanization of immigrant families with the flimsy notion that immigrants steal jobs from natural-born American citizens, and the eerily Nazi themes are clearly felt.
Imagine the message that is being sent here. Suppose you are a Jewish immigrant in the United States from a country where anti-Semitism is on the ascendance, say Ukraine, and you would like to bring over siblings or cousins to the safety of the land of opportunity. The Trump administration is specifically trying to crush this opportunity. This is not just an appeal to our sentimentality for those of us with “immigrant roots,” but a direct assault on immigrants who this very day have been working to bring family over.
And consider that after one year of a Trump administration, popular commentators insist that the Trump administration has turned away from the ideology of former White House advisor Steve Bannon and toward a more established order of the Republican Party. A decade ago, it was common to hear a conservative support “legal” immigration but argue that it was undocumented bordered crossings that were the problem. Fair enough —- but with Trump we have transcended this nicety and gone directly to trying to curb immigration outright.
For Bannon’s nationalist ilk, a lot of the blame for America’s perceived decline rests with the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which greatly reshaped how the United States admitted immigrants based on country of origin, and as the Migration Policy Institute shows, allowed, over the course of several decades, a growth in immigration from Latin America and Asia. A tightening of immigration overall is what the nativist wing of the Trump administration —- whether Bannon is still in the White House officially or not —- wants in order make America a little whiter again.
Jews should be outraged on a moral level, as we should have solidarity with immigrants of all backgrounds. But particularly for Jews, this rhetoric is alarming. If one accepts Israel as refuge for worldwide Jewry, it is simply not feasible for everyone, and allowing Israel to be the only refuge for Jewish migrants from around the world if the United States is to tighten its borders is essentially a surrender to this white nationalist agenda that Jews shouldn’t be welcomed into the United States if they have loved ones already here.
It’s one thing to fight the administration at a policy level when it comes to immigration. But the longer fight is against the rhetoric that immigrants are shadowy, deceptive, insect-like, clannish and exploiting America’s generosity to undermine the nation. These are themes that gave rise to regimes like the Nazis, and we Jews mustn’t lose sight of that.
Ari Paul is a journalist in New York City who has covered politics for The Nation, The Guardian and many other outlets. Follow him on Twitter, @AriPaul